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Oh Hell

Origin United States
Alternative names See Names section
Type Trick-taking
Players 3-7
Skills required s
Cards 52 cards
Deck French
Playing time 25-50 minutes
Random chance Easy
Related games
Bid whist

Oh Hell is a trick-taking card game in which the object is to take exactly the number of tricks bid, unlike contract bridge and spades: taking more tricks than bid is a loss. Its first appearance dates to the early 1930s and it is sometimes credited to the McCandless family.


The game of Oh Hell explores the idea of taking an exact number of tricks specified by a bid before the hand. It differs from other trick-taking games in that players play a fixed number of hands. The game uses trump, often decided by a cut of the deck after the hand's cards have been distributed.

Like many popular social card games, Oh Hell has many local variants, in both rules and names.

Famous players

President Bill Clinton and Steven Spielberg are high profile Oh Hell players.


There are many variations to this game; a common set of regulations is given here.

Oh Hell can be played with almost any number of players (3+) although 4-7 is considered optimal. The game is played using a standard 52-card deck, with ace (A) being the highest rank, two (2) the lowest. With six or more players, the game can be played with two decks combined or with a 63-card deck from six-player 500.

A game consists of a fixed number of hands, and each hand consists of dealing a certain number of cards to each player, depending on the variation and the number of players. During a hand, each player bids for a number of tricks, then attempts to take exactly that many tricks during the hand.

The dealer (initially determined by cutting cards) deals out the cards one by one, starting with the player to his left, in a clockwise direction, until the required number of cards has been dealt. After the dealing is complete, the next card is turned face up, and the suit of this card determines the trump suit for the deal, which is why only up to 12 cards are dealt in a four-player match. (If there are no unused cards, the largest hand is played without a trump suit. Alternatively, the maximal round trump suit can be determined in a variety of ways: for instance, by revealing the dealer's last card as in whist, by cutting the pack before dealing or the dealer can decide the trump before seeing his own cards.)

Each player now bids for the number of tricks he believes he can win. The player to the left of the dealer bids first. Bidding is unrestricted except for the screw the dealer rule: the number of tricks bid cannot equal the number available. That is, every deal must in total be either overbid or underbid. For example, if five cards are dealt, and the first three bids are two, zero and one, then the dealer may not bid two. However, if five cards are dealt, and the first three bids are three, one and two, then the dealer is free to make any bid. The "Screw the Dealer" rule is not used in the version played in West Virginia, South Carolina, Rural Maryland, and Pennsylvania with the dealer being free to make any bid. In an alternative style of bidding, all players simultaneously hold out fingers for the number of tricks they want to bid (similar in style to a rock-paper-scissors shoot). The players bids are recorded on the score sheet next to players score.

When every player has made a bid, the player to the left of the dealer makes the opening lead. Play then proceeds as usual in a trick-taking game, with each player in turn playing one card. Players must follow suit, unless they have no cards of the led suit, in which case they may play any card. The highest card of the led suit wins the trick unless ruffed, when the highest trump card wins.

In multi-deck games, the first of identical cards to be played (say two queens of clubs) wins the trick. In a more complicated variant, identical cards cancel each other, leading to the possibility (if the number of players is even) of an entire trick being canceled out.

The player who wins the trick leads to the next trick.

Number of hands per game

Cooperative version

In this variant, all bids must add up exactly to the number of cards dealt for that round. Players must then "make it work" to move on to the next round. If anyone takes more or less than their bid, the deal moves to the left and the round is re-dealt. With four players, a second deck may be used to specify the round to be played - the value of the upcard determines the number of cards dealt and the suit determines the trump suit for the round.

Prospect version

This variant is played for money. Prior to dealing the first hand, players agree on the amount of money the “losers” will have to pay to the winner. The last place finisher pays the most and the second-place finisher pays the least. The sliding scale in the Prospect version keeps all the players invested in the outcome of every hand, since their finishing rank corresponds to how much money they will owe the winner.


The WPOHL (World Prospect Oh Hell League) Championship is usually held in December in Rehoboth Beach Delaware using “Prospect” rules (e.g. 5 players make up a full table, blind bidding and drinking are allowed, smoking is not). The deal begins with 10 cards, plays down to 1, then back up to 10 for a total of 19 hands per round. Depending on the size of the field, the five or ten lowest scoring players in the room are eliminated each round until there is a five-person "final table." The entry fee is typically under $50.00 (plus $10.00 to join the WPOHL, if not a member).

On December 15, 2013, Shawn O’Brien won the 2013 WPOHL Championship, earning $45.00 in prize money and temporary ownership of the Peterson Cup. The 46-year-old Pennsylvania native is the first official world champion in WPOHL history. The championship consisted of a series three games played in Montrose, Pennsylvania. The 2014 Championship is scheduled to take place December 13-14 in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

O'Brien easily defended his title on December 20, 2014 with commanding tournament play that earned him the nickname “Shawnicus Maximus” and laid the groundwork for a possible dynasty. The Pennsylvanian led the championship from wire to wire and clinched the Peterson Cup by winning the first two of three final rounds of play. With only one blind bid over the course of the 57 hand final series, Shawn made his bid an astounding 82% of the time.

In the early 1990s, the International Oh-Hell League’s annual Championship Tournament of All Creation was held each March in the Riverton, PA Fire Hall. Little current information is available about the tournament. Players vied for the league trophy, a 2-inch bronze reproduction of the Belgian landmark sculpture Manneken Pis - a naked, urinating urchin - which resided permanently in the home of tournament founder, Jack Mathews, regardless of who won the tournament. Thus, to "win" the trophy was not to possess it. Additional idiosyncratic tournament rules included the use of alcohol being off limits, but the use of tobacco being encouraged. A full table consisted of four players. Play began with a one card hand, went up to 13, then back down to one for a total of 25 hands. In each hand, except the 13th, when the entire deck was dealt, the first undealt card was turned over to establish the trump suit. The tournament entry fee was $5.00.

The Annual Cartier 'Oh Hell!' Tournament began in 1995. The tournament formula was created by Tessa Kennedy and Tomasz Starzewski. Cartier Ltd. sponsors the tournament with all money raised going to charity.

Tournament Organization: Two decks of cards are assigned to each table. As one deck is dealt, the other is shuffled in preparation for the following hand. The person to shuffle the cards is always the player sitting opposite the dealer in that hand. Players pick a random card from the deck to select the Dealer for the first hand (highest card is first Dealer).

The tournament is played with 32 people. The first round has all 32 people playing on 8 tables of 4 players each. The winner and first runner up from each table go on to play in the second round. The second round is therefore played with 16 people on 4 tables of 4 players. First round winners and runners-up are split up so they do not play each other again in the second round. The single winner from each table then goes on to the final round the final table of 4 players. The winner is the tournament champion.


There are several alternative methods of scoring:


Oh Hell is also known by a variety of names, including:

Dutch names

Boerenbridge, Boerenlullen, Chinees poepen, Chinees dekken, Chinees bridgen, Koreaanse poker, 10 op en neer, jodelen, pronostieken, Slagenvragen, Hellen, Bollen, op-en-affen.

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